Recording in a New Mexican mesa using only solar power, Brightblack Morning Light is happy to retreat from apocalyptic dread and collapsing economies into a cocoon of its own opiate utopia. “Nobody wants oppression/We don’t need oppression,” sing keyboardist Rachael Hughes and guitarist Nathan Shineywater. Set to a featherweight, time-stretched melody, it sounds like “oppression” could be something as simple as a harsh buzz, never mind suicide bombers and food riots. What they’re getting at with song titles such as “When Beads Spell Power Leaf” is anyone’s guess. But the problem on Motion To Rejoin isn’t that they’re laid-back hippies; it’s that the bottom has fallen out of the magical sound of 2006’s self-titled sophomore LP. Gone are the quietly insistent tom drums, shakers and cymbal swells that provided an essential pulse and tethered Hughes and Shineywater to earth. The traces of muscular gospel and blues have also dissipated, leaving only ghostly voices adrift on waves upon waves of reverb-heavy Rhodes pianos set to maximum vibrato—all of which starts inducing nausea after prolonged exposure. Brightblack Morning Light has always been a druggie band; this time, however, the drug of choice is Dramamine. []

—Michael Barclay


Along with ruining the harmonica for every modern-day rocker, Bob Dylan’s influence on other people’s music often comes across as subtle as a sledgehammer. The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser seems stuck in a never-ending audition for I’m Still Not There, and Blitzen Trapper singer/guitarist Eric Earley does the pinched-nose, protracted-vowel routine as well as anyone not named Cate Blanchett. Witness the title track from the Portland, Ore., band’s fourth full-length, which hums along on a six-string’s plaintive strum, a tambourine’s gentle jangle and, true to form, a harmonica’s whistling wheeze. It’s not the only quality song on Furr to suffer from such a comparison—and not only to Dylan, either. “Black River Killer” is a fantastically detailed, first-person murder ballad that takes a few too many cues from Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” while two other tracks reanimate the Allman Brothers’ Southern-rockin’ guitar solos. Enjoying Furr, then, depends entirely on your ability (or willingness) to ignore the heavy footprints of familiar musicians. Try to appreciate the highly infectious boogie-woogie of “Saturday Nite” without hearing Jerry Garcia or the hellfire screeching of “Love U” without having to block out Jet. Do that, and the craftsmanship on Furr has a good shot at overshadowing its undeniable derivation. []

—Noah Bonaparte Pais


Time sure has coarsened All Girl Summer Fun Band. On Looking Into It, the Portland, Ore., group’s first album since 2003’s 2, the tweeful, mash-note cotton candy has turned jawbreaker, power-pop hard. The first few tunes here suggest that drummer/bassist Kathy Foster, guitarist Jen Sbragia and guitarist/keyboardist Kim Baxter (all three sing) haven’t outgrown girlish cares, even though they’re operating in a realm where the High Water Marks’ fuzzed-out guitar-pedal bliss and Weezer’s crisp, melodic mawkishness are equally influential. “Oh No” drifts from blossoming devotion to woe-is-me anxiety on a wave of chugga-chugga guitars and handclaps, while the pastel-crunchy “Not The One For Me” makes a case for letting your significant other go find another soulmate. But the second half of Looking Into It hints, however timidly, at a newfound maturity. “Rewind,” a tribute to Sbragia’s deceased father, slows to a glacial tempo. The cutesy veneer surrounding “Plastic Toy Dream” appears to be one of puerile whimsy, until you slice through the power-puff distortion and realize that the band is castigating sweatshop managers. []

—Raymond Cummings

Juliana Hatfield: Exclusive Excerpt From Her New Memoir

Juliana Hatfield was an unwitting alt-rock gossip girl, emerging from the early-’90s Boston scene with the Blake Babies. But all anyone wanted to talk about was her fling with Lemonheads pin-up boy Evan Dando. All this and more is detailed in her new memoir, When I Grow Up. In this exclusive excerpt, Hatfield remembers being America’s most famous 23-year-old virgin.

In 1992, my first solo album, Hey Babe, was released on Mammoth Records. It was my first work since the Blake Babies had broken up. Mammoth was a relatively new label based in Carrboro, N.C., and they were putting a lot into the promotion of my new album. It generated a lot of press attention, especially for an independent release. The head of Mammoth, Jay Faires, had designs on being a big player in the industry, with ambitions of one day selling his label to one of the major ones, so he was really pushing me, gambling on me. Faires wanted to prove that he could succeed at building a viable, profitable record company from the ground up; and I, along with some of the many varied acts on the roster such as the Melvins, Victoria Williams, Seven Mary Three, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Fu Manchu, seemed like a good bet to help make that happen. (Seven Mary Three and Squirrel Nut Zippers went on to sell a million albums each, and Faires sold Mammoth to Disney in 1998.)

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MOGWAI: The Hawk Is Howling [Matador]

If you’ve lost touch with the band’s work, something new from Mogwai almost demands a barefoot run through the bountiful legacy of these psychedelic master painters from Glasgow, just to see if they’ve still got what it takes. Rest easy, the group that makes you wish you’d gone to film school so you could’ve built a movie around its expansive instrumentals—works that seem to come rumbling from the molten core of the earth itself—hasn’t changed much from the glory days of early albums such as 1997’s Young Team. Two minutes into “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,” and it’s just like returning to the familiar smells and dog-eared menu of a favorite restaurant after a long absence. It’s amazing what Mogwai can do with a few simple ingredients. From a solitary piano and a few electric-guitar chords reverberating quietly in somebody’s basement, the song builds in intensity until it becomes a thundering river of lava with a glockenspiel precariously riding the floodtide. Consumer tip: If your house needs shingle-replacement, “The Precipice” at maximum volume might accomplish the demolition of the old roof at a fraction of the cost. []

—Jud Cost

BOSTON SPACESHIPS: Brown Submarine [Guided By Voices Inc.]

At least two of the following mildewed factoids seem mandatory in any Robert Pollard review: “used to be a teacher,” “sings in a fake British accent,” “takes the occasional drink” and “needs an editor.” Given the tepid reaction to some of Pollard’s recent efforts, “return to form” might be added to the lexicon of staleness when discussing the debut LP by Pollard’s latest incarnation, Boston Spaceships. (Late-period Guided By Voices bassist Chris Slusarenko on guitar and other instruments and Decemberists drummer John Moen fill out this new power trio.) Fanboys (“Return to form? Everything’s always been great!”) and naysayers (“Why does he have to release every song he writes?”) will never settle their differences. Though I generally partake in the Kool-Aid, some of Pollard’s post-GBV stuff has admittedly either gone over my head or missed the sweet spot. Brown Submarine’s pleasures, however, are inarguable. Swaggering opener “Winston’s Atomic Bird” evokes GBV circa Devil Between My Toes, while the pretty, pastoral folk pop of “Two Girl Area” conjures Every Picture Tells A Story-era Rod Stewart. The bouncy “Ready To Pop” is aptly descriptive, and the equally catchy “Andy Playboy” succinctly tells a wannabe band frontman’s story in a mere minute and a half. Boasting sharp lyrics and plenty of strong songwriting, Brown Submarine may be Pollard’s most entertaining start-to-finish record since 2006’s double-whammy of From A Compound Eye and Blues And Boogie Shoes. On or off the Pollard bandwagon, all aboard this Submarine. []

—Matt Hickey

DEAD CONFEDERATE: Wrecking Ball [The Artists Organization]

When the members of Dead Confederate got together in 1997, it was as a jam band called Redbelly, playing 30-minute songs that hovered between Neil Young and Pink Floyd. A couple of name changes later, the Athens, Ga., group has shoved aside its old, free-floating post-psych for the barbed, bruising Southern grunge of Wrecking Ball. There’s no shortage of calculation in the transition, especially in Dead Confederate’s unwavering devotion to Nirvana, but for all its familiarity, this debut is absolutely merciless. Wrecking Ball is a lumbering, angst-driven assault that’s simultaneously ear-splitting and as comfortable as an old flannel shirt. On its strongest cuts (“Heavy Petting,” “The Rat”), the band splatters noise in every direction, retooling its Floyd fascination into aggression and reinvigorating the boneheadedness of Skynyrd for maximum 21st-century effect. Even on the weaker songs, when the chord changes come secondhand and the influences arrive undigested, Wrecking Ball remains an ugly slab of guitar sludge that’s well worth the pain. []

—Kenny Berkowitz


Every big city has one: the band that should’ve made it, the act that, through whatever combination of bad luck, worse advice and blinding self-destructiveness, never quite broke out of its hometown. In Miami in the 1980s, that band was Charlie Pickett And The Eggs. Proficient in genres from cowpunk to Stones-y bar rock, Pickett made a record co-produced by the Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker and suffered the usual malaise of low record sales and ruinous touring. Bar Band Americanus (Bloodshot) collects tracks from 1982-87, and the range of material is impressive, from the slide-guitar blues of “Penny Instead” to the overtly Keith Richards guitar riff that drives “On Horseback.”

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OKKERVIL RIVER: The Stand Ins [Jagjaguwar]

A year removed from 2007’s blog-tastically acclaimed The Stage Names, Okkervil River is back with its sequel, a collection of songs drawn from the same recording sessions. Think of it as a lit-rock Use Your Illusion II. While The Stage Names jettisoned much of Okkervil River’s former folk and orchestral-pop leanings, The Stand Ins leaves the door open to its roots, from now-former member Jonathan Meiburg’s ringing banjo opening “Lost Coastlines” to the appropriately Highway 61-leaning “Singer Songwriter,” a biting and brilliant takedown of the artistic leisure class. Such vintage touches mesh nicely with leader Will Sheff’s earnest vocal delivery, but elsewhere, Okkervil River’s less-adventurous approach reveals some songs for what they are: perfectly capable if unmemorable vehicles for Sheff’s lyric novellas. “Blue Tulip” meanders too long before falling into a cathartic finish, and the wordy “Pop Lie” finds Sheff indulging his fascination with his own vocation. The latter track, a rocked-out confessional, dares to close with a straight-faced recitation of the song’s “dedicated to” note, a move that feels both audacious and staggeringly precious. Okkervil River can deliver terrific songs when ambitions are kept in balance, but this uneven record is in dire need of an editor. []

—Chris Barton

THE NEW YEAR: The New Year [Touch And Go]

Matt and Bubba Kadane have never been in much of a hurry to do anything, neither with their beloved ’90s outfit Bedhead nor with their current gig, the New Year. So it’s no surprise that the follow-up to 2004’s The End Is Near took the brothers more than four years. “Folios” unfolds at the same snail-on-muscle-relaxants pace that made Bedhead so maddening and sneakily rewarding—little more than a repeated guitar chord and a tapped snare—before one of the interchangeably low-singing Kadanes ends the song with an amusing confession: “I don’t think the good years I’ve got can wait.” With that, they get right to it. This self-titled third album is, by these guys’ standards, quite the rush. Thanks to a typically front-and-center drum mix by engineer Steve Albini, walkabout pacesetters “X Off Days” and “The Door Opens” feel more like a mad dash. The unrushed songs are equally appealing, gussied up with elegant guitar and piano accents and spiked with disarming lines (“camping and orgies” are whispered among other soon-to-be-unmissed pleasures on deathbed missive “MMV”). If it takes the Kadanes another half-decade to match this half-hour of sublime music, the waiting will be the hardest part, indeed. []

—Noah Bonaparte Pais